From early antiquity, the Armenian people developed a rich and distinctive culture on the great Armenian highland plateau extending from Asia Minor to the Caucasus. On that crossroad, they interacted on many levels with civilizations of the Orient and Occident. Also from early times, Armenian colonies and communities were established beyond the highland, along the seacoasts of the Black, Mediterranean, and Aegean seas and onward to other continents.
One such community was that of Smyrna along the Ionian coastline, which figures so heavily in Hellenic civilization and biblical history. The natural harbor of Smyrna attracted merchants from around the world, and from the Middle Ages onward Armenian settlers arrived from throughout Asia Minor and from their troubled homelands stretching eastward to the plain of Ararat, Karabagh, and northern Iran. Although numbering barely 25,000 persons when the surrounding towns and villages are taken into account, the Smyrna community stood out in its prosperity and adoption of Western modes and styles. Its merchants flourished in the Italian city states and as far west as Manchester, England, and participated in the eastern trade as far as Persia and the Indian Ocean.
Smyrna, more familiar as Izmir in Turkish and modern usage, played a key role not only in Armenian commercial history but also in the national process of intellectual, cultural, and social enlightenment. Schools and churches, dramatic and musical groups, and athletic and sporting associations thrived there in the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century until the swift demise of the entire community in the chaos and Great Fire of 1922. All these aspects are presented in this volume.
The UCLA conference series, “Historic Armenian Cities and Provinces,” has been organized by the Holder of the Armenian Educational Chair in Modern Armenian History for the purpose of exploring and illuminating the historical, political, cultural, religious, social, and economic legacies of the Armenian people. Armenian Smyrna/Izmir is the eleventh of the conference proceedings to be published.